Keaton Winn honored by Pekin

Jan. 10—PEKIN — Keaton Winn was caught off guard just a little bit when he returned to Pekin High School last month.

The school welcomed back their former four-star standout student athlete to retire his baseball jersey. The Ollie native has gone from a small-town star to a big league pitcher making his professional debut this past Major League Baseball season with the San Francisco Giants.

At Pekin, Winn was a key member of a successful team in almost every season over his four years of high school including his time as one of the area's top scorers and rebounders for the Panther boys basketball team. Back then, Pekin's student body and home fans could be found packing the stands on the west side of the gymnasium.

These days, however, the home fans at Pekin including the student body can be found on the east side of the gymnasium, right next to the entrance that Winn came through on his way out for the ceremony held last month in between varsity basketball games between the Panthers and Louisa-Muscatine. Winn walked in seeing the west-side stands in front of him that were only about half full.

"When I walked out there, I thought nobody was here," Winn said. "It wasn't until I got out there on the floor and looked over to other side. It's an awesome moment. I'm honored. That's the only way I can describe it."

Winn got to see first hand just what kind of impact he had on his hometown and his home community. Several former classmates, and teammates, were on hand to witness the ceremony and celebrate one of the biggest accomplishments for a Pekin student becoming a professional athlete after being called up by the Giants this past June.

For Winn, that first day as a Major League pitcher felt a little bit like pitching back home. Making his debut at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, several fans and family members made the trip from southeast Iowa to the series with the Cardinals.

"I looked up in the stands and it felt like every other person I saw, I knew," Winn said. "It was very cool that so many people decided to come to that game. That also meant a lot to me."

Winn's journey to the majors featuring twists and turns including two lost seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and Tommy John surgery in 2021. Just over seven years after graduating Pekin and almost exactly six years after being drafted by the Giants, Winn was called into his manager's office at Triple-A Sacramento expecting some frustrating news at first.

"They had pushed my scheduled start back two days in a row, so when they called me in I thought it they were pushing me back again," Winn said. "That's when I was told they need some help in St. Louis. I went from being mad to be being shell-shocked. It was really happening."

For just the second time in his life, the first being during a rookie camp after initially being drafted, Winn entered a Major League baseball stadium when he joined the Giants for their three-game series that began on June 12. The following day, Winn made his official Major League pitching debut in front of nearly 30 relatives, friends and family earning a save by pitching four innings in a 11-3 win for San Francisco allowing one run on one hit striking out two batters while walking three.

"That series was the first time I'd actually been to a Major League game with fans in the crowd and people in the stadium," Winn said. "When you look up and see so many people that you know, it definitely helped calm my nerves. I was sitting in the outfield before the game, looked up and immediately recognized about three or four people. It felt like I knew about 90 percent of the people when I went out on the mound. It felt a little bit like I was back home on the mound at Pekin pitching on the diamond right next to the air strip."

While it was baseball that led to a future as a professional athlete, Winn excelled at Pekin in every sport he participated in. On the gridiron, Winn was an all-state tight end that helped Pekin qualify for the postseason three consecutive years winning 27 of 34 games during that stretch while also setting a program single-game record for rebounding on the basketball court earning two-time first-year all-conference honors while helping the Panthers post three winning seasons in four years.

Several Pekin coaches spoke on behalf of the great athlete, great student and great person that Winn was during his time wearing a Panther uniform. Davis Eidahl, the long-time hall-of-fame coach of the Panthers in track, cross-country and basketball talked about the skills of Winn on the track as a state championship-winning member of Pekin's 4x200 meter relay team in 2015.

"Every race that year, it seemed like Keaton would hand the baton off with the lead," Eidahl recalled. "I can remember him growing up and to swimming lessons when he was a kid. His teacher had to get on the phone to get him in the water. He's grown into such a great young man and become such a terrific example for all the young kids in our community."

Winn went from the small town of Ollie to the big stage of Sunday Night Baseball, earning his first major league win on ESPN back on Sept. 10 in a 6-3 victory over Colorado in which Winn shook off a line drive off his left leg and three runs allowed in the second inning striking out nine batters over six innings. Winn finished his first season with the Giants striking out 35 batters over 42 1/3 innings while posting a 4.68 ERA and a 1-3 record.

"I think the organization was happy with my strike-throwing and my ability to throw deep into games even while being on a low pitch count," Winn said. "I'd like to think the organization has some big future plans for me."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.